Patching Boy Scout canoes on Maine’s Allagash River in the mid-1960s was ROLLIN THURLOW’s first successful canoe-building experience—successful, but not very graceful! Rollin has taught canoe building and restoration at a variety of locations throughout the U.S. Rollin Thurlow has been building and using, writing and teaching about wood-and-canvas canoes for years. Loved the wood-and-canvas canoe construction course, met so many great people, and fell in love with Maine! Please note that owing to time constraints, we are not currently building Peterboroughs to order, but rather schedule them around other jobs and sell one from time to time when they are finished. A The fact that some of these canoes are still around today and still being paddled testifies to their durability and illustrates an important fact about this type of construction: all parts are replaceable and so the canoes can be continually refurbished virtually as new. Many people feel drawn towards wood canvas canoes for their looks, their natural materials, and rich historical connections that plastic canoes simply do not have.
Durability: Wood-canvas canoes are much more rugged than you might expect from looking at the materials used to build them - very thin cedar strips and canvas cloth.
Also, the hull is A held together by opposing forces: the ribs are springing the planking outwards and the stretched canvas is A constricting it inwards. However, a wood-canvas canoe will not withstand the level of punishment that you can give to a plastic canoe. We portage rapids where we judge that our skill level is not sufficiently high to give a reasonable chance that we will not hit a rock. Maintenance: Wooden canoes require some maintenance - they dona€™t thrive on neglect - but it is not particularly onerous.
The design is the standard 16ft x 32" x 12" model that was produced by the Peterborough Canoe Co (and forerunners) with little modification from around 1888 until at least 1941. Many people we have spoken to would really like to build their own wood-canvas canoe but have been put off by the need to make a full building form complete with metal bands for clinching the brass planking tacks. We now are offering the opportunity for you to build a classic canoe under our guidance using our form in Chesterfield for the ribbing and planking phases; then finishing the hull at home. We will agree on a flexible scheme designed to match your woodworking skills and tools that you possess - from you sourcing the wood and preparing the individual ribs and planking, through to us machining most of the parts before you arrive for the actual construction of the hull. Clearly, the cost of the build will depend on how much of the woodwork you feel able to do on your own.
The cedar canvas canoe represents the European adaptation of the bark canoe built and used by the native people.
Cedar canvas canoes have a long and romantic history in Canada and the north-eastern United States where they have been built in small shops and large factories for about 125 years. The first step in the construction of a new canoe is to clamp the inwales and the stem pieces to the form.
After the filler has cured, the outwales are added and the canoe is then given at least three coats of marine enamel.
After graduating from Maine Maritime Academy and a tour in the Navy, Rollin attended the wooden boat building program at Maine’s Washington County Vocational Technical Institute. Not only are they wonderful to look at and a pleasure to build, they also perform quite well. Between steps, there may be time to carve your own paddle—a fascinating project unto itself. A They are the direct descendants of native American birchbark canoes and second only to a well-made birchbark in terms of visual appeal. Their strength comes from the construction - no parts are rigidly fixed - which allows movement so that impacts can be absorbed to some extent into the hull structure. Depending on the type of canoeing you want to do, this might well be a drawback but you can also regard it as a good thing.
Also when landing on a rocky shore, we get out of the canoe before it grounds on the bottom.


A We wipe over the gunwales with boiled linseed about once a month, and keep up with any deep scratches in the filler with a touch of Plastic Padding. However, all wood-canvas canoes put on weight as they take up water and can gain 5-10lbs on a wet trip. It was their most popular model having the "size, proportions and shape considered an optimum compromise to satisfy most canoeists looking for a general purpose canoe". A Ribbing and planking normally take a couple of weekends, and the later processes of canvassing and filling (which can be done at home if you wish), a further weekend at Chesterfield. Most people understandably want to make full use of their existing skills (and of course learn new ones) to A have the biggest input into building their canoe and so experience most fully this unique and compelling craft. The basic raw materials for making a wood-canvas Peterborough should be somewhere in the region of A?600. As suitable bark became more difficult to obtain and to facilitate industrial production, canvas was substituted for the bark and rendered waterproof by the application of oil, tar or paint.
Many people think of them as 'old fashioned' canoes and are surprised to learn that they are still being built today.
The canoes are built directly onto this form so that it determines the shape of the canoe hull. Next the cedar ribs are steamed and bent, one at a time, over the form and nailed to the inwales.
The shear planking is then completed and the ends of the canoe are closed up.The canoe is then sanded and cleaned inside and given at least 4 coats of marine spar varnish. The canoe is placed into the trough and the canvas is attached at the top of each rib with brass tacks or stainless steel staples. His interest lead him to collaborate with Jerry Stelmok to start their own wooden canoe building company.
Building a variety of his own designs plus historic reproductions, Rollin’s shop in the small town of Atkinson, Maine, the Northwoods Canoe Company, has become known as one of the premier wooden canoe shops for both restoration and new wooden canoes.
This construction method permits a clean, sharp entry and a subtle shape that is difficult to achieve with aluminum or fiberglass. Then comes the fitting and fastening of the planking—a good chance to practice hand-tool skills in a very satisfying process.
Three students will leave this course with a new canoe nearly ready for paint and varnish; all will leave with knowledge and experience of what is probably the most indigenous of American boatbuilding techniques, a process directly evolved from birchbark canoes and still very much alive today. He was very willing to share both his knowledge and expertise in building cedar-and-canvas canoes. We chose this design because it is a fast, attractive canoe that has enough volume for tripping for two, but not so much freeboard as a Prospector, which unless well laden, is apt to catch the wind. There is just something about the beauty inherent in the rib and plank construction of both birchbarks and wood-canvas that makes these canoes look stunning. Based on our experience of almost 20 years using our wood-canvas Peterboroughs, here is our impression of their performance. Wood-canvas canoes were used to explore many of the wilderness regions in Canada - a sure testament to their durability.
Other than this, the boat does not need special handling and can be dragged out onto sand or shingle, as you would with any other type of canoe. Your wood-canvas canoe will probably need a new canvas every 10-15 years or so if used heavily in rocky environments, but much less frequently if used only very occasionally, or only in deep water. When we were looking into the origin of the design, we received a very nice letter from Gerry Stephenson (grandson of John Stephenson one of the original Peterborough builders and holder of the original patents), which filled in some of the historical details.
We are happy to guide you every step of the way, or leave you to do at home as much preparatory work as you wish. The wood then needs to be cut into strips and the ribs, decks, stems, thwarts and gunwales shaped. In fact the methods of manufacture have changed little in the past 125 years, ensuring the same high aesthetic qualities and superior handling characteristics of the classic canvas covered canoes.


At the ends of the canoe the canvas is carefully slit and pulled, one side at a time, around the stem and fastened.
The time required to build a canoe varies with the size and the degree of finish and can range from about 80 to 200 hours.
While wooden canoes have had a long history, Rollin and Jerry discovered that there was precious little written about the actual how-to construction of the canoes.
The century-old technology of clenching thin planks to steamed frames and then covering the hull with a tight canvas skin yields an amazingly flexible and rugged craft. Wood-canvas canoes are structurally the same as birchbarks except that canvas replaces the bark and brass tacks are used in place of spruce root lashings. A It is unlikely that the old-time canoeists would recognize the spectacle of a plastic canoe bouncing from rock to rock down a rapid as having much to do with canoeing at all. The design figured in the catalogue of the Ontario Canoe Company (which in time became the Peterborough Canoe Company) as Model no 44, and cost $50. A The minimum cost of the build plus materials (assuming we do the more technically demanding jobs) is likely to be around A?1300. However, once the form is complete, a large number of canoes can be built on it, one at a time. The red or white cedar planking is then applied over the ribs and secured to each rib with 3 or 4 brass tacks.
The canvas is then 'filled' with a product that fills the weave and makes a smooth, solid base for the finishing paint. The canoe company became a real reinventing-the-wheel type of project—long on desire but short on capital and business skills, leading to the demise of the original company. If the Prospector is the Workhorse of the North, then the Peterborough is the Thoroughbred. They were developed largely in response to the explosion in recreational canoeing in North America around 1880. Having your canoe remain wet for long periods of time will greatly reduce the life of the canvas.
It became Model 604 by the 1909 Peterborough catalogue, and Model 1427 "The Canadien" by 1941. Metal bands on the form clinch each tack into the inside surface of the ribs to create a secure connection between the planks and the ribs.
But it was not long before with renewed interest and skills, Rollin started his own company, the Northwoods Canoe Company. The supply of birchbark could not keep pace with demand, and many people rapidly tired of having to re-gum leaky birchbark canoes. The earlier canoes had numbers rather than model names apparently because most canoes at that time were given names by their owners that were painted on (this could be done in the factory if desired).
Co-authoring with Jerry the book the Wood and Canvas Canoe ensured that the how-to and historic information they had collected would become available to the public at large.
A Equally importantly, wood-canvas canoes are made on a mould or form which allowed more rapid construction and a much more consistent hull shape and quality. The 32" beam model was advertised as being suitable for "avid" canoeists whereas the wider 34-36" flat-bottomed models were considered more suitable for ladies and children. Many wood-canvas canoe builders sprang up, notably in Maine and Ontario, and their canoes have become classics which today change hands for rather large sums of money.



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